Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Civil Society and External Threats

In my previous post on 1 February 2013, Global Trends in Civil Society, I mentioned an article in a CIVICUS publication in which it was reported that with the growth of civil society in scale and importance over recent years, so also has its vulnerability to threats or challenges from three directions.  One of those is the external threat by political authorities challenging the civil society's right to exist or to operate in accordance with its values and purposes.  It is this external threat that is the focus of this post.

The Washington Post carried a recent article about volunteers in Russia and how the Russian Parliament is weighing a law to bring any volunteer activity under the purview of the state.

The headline was from Itomyla, Russia, a decaying farm village about five hour's drive from Moscow.  A country doctor, Sergei Vishnyakov, had been the only doctor in this village since 1981 when he was assigned there right out of medical school.  Although the 15 bed hospital had a annual budget of $25,000, which included his salary, he had come to love his work and all of the families in this village and supplemented his salary with home-grown potatoes, pickles, and about 20 chickens.

Dmitry Aleshkovsy, a former news photographer, tried to help save this tiny dilapidated village hospital with the indifferent health bureaucracy responsible for its operations.  He led a group of young men, all volunteers from Moscow, bringing equipment, money, furniture, and good cheer.  The Health Ministry planned to downgrade this hospital to a recovery center where there would be no treatment offered.  The hospital, although small, served a district of 112 villages or about 3000 residents.  The nearest hospital was 30 miles away in the city of Rzhev, with bus service on Saturdays and Sundays.

The hospital was set up in Soviet times to serve the huge collective farm that included Itomlya and the surrounding district.  The farm has closed and the fields are now full of saplings where flax once grew.  Most of the men who were not engaged in illegal logging migrated to Moscow searching for work.

Whereas mechanical accidents use to be the major contributor to Servei Vishnyanko's work, today it is alcoholism and age related infirmities.

Almost two years ago, the Washington Post carried a story about how Russian medical care was hobbled by corruption, meager salaries, ill-conceived laws, a shortage of medical workers and an overbearing government bureaucracy.  A prominent leading physician, Leonid Roshal, who was also president of the National Medical Chamber, addressed some of the complaints to then Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in a  medical conference.  Mr. Putin did not dispute the allegations.  Leonid Roshal concluded that all of this was directed by the Health Ministry bureaucracy that was painfully lacking in people with medical training.  According the Roshal, the Ministry treats doctors who care about the quality of medical care as "intrusive flies."

 Protests erupted around the country as protesters lined the city streets with signs detailing the conditions that health-care workers faced.  During a TV call-in show in December 2010, a cardiologist told the Prime Minister that the conditions that Mr. Putin saw during his recent visit were faked for his benefit.

Now some context to the visit by the volunteers to the hospital in Itomlya.  After a year of dissent and protests, many violent, now President Putin has relentlessly demonstrated his determination to quell dissent.  In an apparent attempt to frighten demonstrators on the eve of his inauguration as President, 17 protesters were arrested and prosecuted for their part in the protest rally, and accused of attacking police officers.

A newly passed law defined treason so broadly that Russians were afraid that even associating with foreigners could put them at peril.  Penalties for slander and violations of ruled governing rallies were toughened.  As of 21 November 2012, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) receiving money from abroad must register as foreign agents.  The Moscow Helsinki Group and others have said that they will defy the law.

Legislation to regulate volunteers has been introduced in the State Duma, or lower house of Parliament, by President Putin's United Russia party.  The theory is that people who want to organize to do good work are a threat to the state's power.  Backers also say that this proposed law will ensure that volunteer activity conforms to the government's priorities and does not conflict with Kremlin policy.  These are all points I made in a public lecture I gave in Shantou University, Guangdong Province, China in late November 2012, and included in my recent blog post on 4 February 2013.

But, Russian officials are not the only ones hostile to voluntarism.  As reported in the recent Washington Post article, Russia's Soviet past, when the government controlled all aspects of life, has left it with a population that is accustomed to the idea that government should provide for its citizens and a population which is suspicious of volunteer organizations.  Indeed, a recent 2012 poll found that more than half of Russia's population disapproves of volunteer organizations.

And yet, despite these attempts, there are volunteer organizations in Russia, such as the group led by Dmitry Aleshkovsky, the former news photographer, Volunteers on Wheels, a Facebook community where people with needs and drivers who want to help find each other; or another volunteer group, Tugeza, which in English is "together," which has grown to include 3,000 members of Facebook, who are involved with volunteer work with cystic fibrosis patients, cooking hearty meals for a children's hospital which are delivered by members of the Volunteers on Wheels.

Authorities are clear about their hostility toward volunteer work.  As reported by Will England and Kathy Lally in their 2 February 2013 article in the Washington Post, "in 2010, after deep cuts in the forest service, volunteers tried to help put out peat fires that sent choking smoke throughout much of European Russia."  According to some of the volunteers reported on social media, police stopped them demanding bribes to let them through.

One group, Liza Alert, was organized to conduct volunteer searches for missing persons when it became clear that the police weren't interested in doing so.  After a year, there was grudging indifference on the part of police rather than outright interference which the volunteer group faced in the beginning.

Volunteer organizers say that most of the resistance they face is more subtle, usually in the form of bureaucratic delays and lack of cooperation.  Some groups, such as Volunteers on Wheels, led by Yevgeny Grekov, make a point of not formally organizing so that they can avoid legal complications.

The China Quarterly, Volume 198, June 2009, carried an article, " Post-Earthquake Relief and Reconstruction Efforts: The Emergence of Civil Society in China?" by Jessica C. Teets, in which she analyzed the May 2009 massive earthquake that struck Sichuan Province in China.  According to the State Council Information Office, the death toll from this earthquake was approximately 70,000, with approximately 10,000 confirmed schoolchild deaths resulting from 7,000 collapsed classrooms.  Another 18,000 were reported missing.


There was a significant outpouring of donations and volunteers, leading many to believe that, similar to the SARS crisis in 2003, relief and reconstruction efforts would strengthen civil society in China.

According to many analysts, participation in relief efforts increases civil society groups' capacity through expanded volunteer and donor base, improved property management experience, and through demonstration to the government the potentially positive role played by civil society.  Group relief efforts also have the potential to create habits of trust and participation on behalf of the government, potential volunteers, and donors, many of whom are distrustful or ignorant of civil society.

Since the 1980s, many organizations broadly identified as nongovernmental and nonprofit organizations (NGO, NPO) have formed to deliver services and advocate for certain groups in society.  Jianxing Yu and Sujian Guo, in their introduction, "The Relationship Between Civil Society and Governance in China," in Civil Society and Governance in China, pointed out that:
     Civil-society studies began in China in the early 1990s, through roots that can be traced back to China's reform and opening that began in 1978.  At the time, analysts started stressing the importance of the social sphere outside the state, signifying the decline of the monopoly of statist-oriented approaches to the study of China's political and social development.  Although there has been no consensus among Chinese scholars on the concept of civil society and its applicability in China, despite the fact that the state still controls and dominates major social resources, the notion of "state and society relations" continues to provide a helpful approach to the study of social changes in China since 1978.
* * *
     However, the idea of "civil society" is derived from Western historical experience, so it may prove problematic as a way of understanding social change in societies with very different historical trajectories and social characteristics.  . . .
     Recognizing the tension between Western concepts and Chinese realities, many scholars of civil society have advanced more nuanced frameworks.
These have included: a model of "interactive relations" between civil society and the state, arguing that endogenous tensions of civil society would require the necessary but rational interference of the state; a model in which there is the construction of a "socialist civil society" and a "strong-state society" in the Chinese context which interact with each other to influence actions and outcomes; and models built on concepts of "corporatism," "state in society." and "cooperation between state and society" in which the enhanced power of social forces do not necessarily reduce the power of the state, but would create a "win-win" situation in which society and state cooperate productively with each other.

Dr. Jessica Teets, in her paper, "Post-Earthquake Relief and Reconstruction Efforts" in The China Quarterly 2009, picks up some of these ideas when she states that past debates on civil society in China were based on a model of civil society developed by Jurgen Habermas, positing a public sphere autonomous from the state and composed of groups of voluntary associations.  According to Teets, the key criterion for the idealized civil society, "one that plays an oppositional role to the state and fosters democracy, is that associations composing civil society must be autonomous from the state."

While this debate is beyond the scope of this post, one of the insights in Civil Society and Governance in China is the distinct ways of examining the concept of civil society, that is, from a political or sociological or humanitarian perspective.  This may well help us understand some of the relational tensions between the state and civil society, no matter where they are found.

Understanding some of these distinctions, it is easier to contextualize areas of perceived weakness as identified by Dr. Teets in her analysis of the relief and recovery period following the Sichuan earthquake in 2008, and indeed understand some of the external threats which are the focus of this post.  Based on her analysis of the role of civil society in Sichuan, and particularly on her interviews with groups and government agencies participating in the relief efforts, she found that in three areas of civil society -- capacity, mobilization ability, and relationship with local government -- the initial outcomes of participation in relief efforts were ambiguous.

Areas of perceived weakness included: lack of trust by many Chinese who chose to bypass organized civil society groups and participate directly in relief efforts or via local government; lack of project management experience, adequate auditing process, and lack of professional or trained volunteers reflecting a capacity deficit; inability to organize quickly and inability to assist in relief efforts coherently and gain access to disaster areas, while duplicating the efforts of others; lack of voluntariness in domestic donations from companies agencies, and individuals.  These are basically the internal threats to civil society organizations stated in the CIVICUS paper.

One observation made by Dr. Teets is consistent at a  certain level with observations regarding civil society around the world, but perhaps because of China's history and context became more obvious during the relief efforts in Sichuan Province:
     The presence of what many analysts are calling "informal civil society," meaning spontaneous unorganized social action illustrates the difficulty for many groups in mobilizing society outside existing networks.  A common explanation for why so many donors and volunteers bypassed existing civil society organizations is that these groups are seen as ineffective.  "This kind of civil society, based not around formal organisations but around issues, can mobilize more people."  Another explanation is that corporations and citizens do not trust these groups, as evidenced by the low trust levels in the World Values Surveys in China.  As one interviewee noted, "If an ordinary Chinese gives 100 kuai to a group, he wants to see that group spend 100 kuai on the activity.  If the group uses any of that money for administrative costs, the ordinary Chinese thinks that is corruption." Because trust for civil society is low and many doubt groups' capacity to undertake the work, a great deal of the donations and volunteers were not an organized response, but rather a spontaneous one to the tragedy.  While many older Chinese embrace what they see as the younger generation's return to traditions of community assistance from the materialism of the last two decades, this type of social action does not strengthen but rather undermines civil society.  If social action takes place outside organized civil society, these groups will find it difficult to increase their capacity or social trust levels.
Nevertheless, earthquake relief efforts illustrated the increasing project abilities and sources of funding available to civil society organizations, both domestically and internationally through INGOs, or International NGOs, both important indicators of capacity.  Additionally, groups demonstrated the ability to mobilize a large volunteer base quickly.  Many analysts argue that relief efforts created a strong volunteer base for civil society through feelings of social responsibility and habits of volunteering.

Within five hours after the earthquake hit, Amity Foundation had a staff in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province, to begin assessing the damage in some of the worst affected counties.  A day later, the United Methodist Committee on Relief issued an emergency appeal and immediately dispatched $50,000 to Amity for relief and rehabilitation work.  Another $10,000 was released to Amity to work with children left parentless after the earthquake.  A year later, Amity Foundation with its relief and rehabilitation work has touched the lives of 400,000 persons, with projects providing community grain storage facilities, clean water and sanitation supply lines, trauma counseling, materials for the construction of homes, technical and construction skills to residents, and rebuilt classrooms and school equipment.

While during the first few weeks following the earthquake and the scale of needs seemed overwhelming, Amity's practice of inventory and noting down the name of each person receiving aid and goods came under criticism by some organizations that thought Amity was not moving fast enough with its relief efforts.  But, it soon became apparent that Amity's system of accountability ensured a fair and equal distribution of goods and services, and reduced the potential for "double-dippers."  Not long thereafter, government officials sought Amity's help in putting those principles and practices of accountability in to place for its emergency distribution work.

In late May 2008, Zhang Qiyu decided to take a break from her studies at an elite university in Beijing and volunteer at a refugee camp for survivors of the Sichuan earthquake.  This 22-year-old young, petite, pony-tailed and bespectacled lady exchanged her urban dormitory for a tent in the Mianzhu countryside among among thousands of the 5 million people made homeless by the earthquake, the most devastating natural disaster in more than 50 years.  Zhang Qiyu and an army of 150,000 other volunteers -- plus130,000 soldiers and tens of thousands of construction workers -- were part of a rebuilding effort that looks set to reshape not just Sichuan, but also the way the nation sees itself and relates to the outside world.  So, while bulldozers, mechanical diggers, and cement mixers dressed wounds on the landscape, Zhang Qiyu was helping heal the psychological scars by caring for infants at the newly-erected children's center.

According to reports in newspaper shortly after the earthquake, Zhang Qiyu exemplified a change that has made China more internally sympathetic and externally assertive.  Her generation was formerly criticized as selfish and materialistic, and as little emperors because of the one-child policy and growing up during a period of rising inequity.  Yet, here was Zhang based at a children's center, a fenced off cluster of tents and prefabricated huts, run by the China Social Entrepreneur Foundation, an NGO set up and approved by the government.  Whereas this NGO was viewed with suspicion by the government as anarchist, the relationship improved as a result of its work with the earthquake and the relief work.  The government now realized how useful NGOs can be.

The World, reported on 28 May 2009, one year after the Sichuan earthquake, that:
     This was the scene in Sichuan last year, at a stadium turned into a camp for people made homeless by the earthquake.  This woman was calling for volunteers, and volunteers were everywhere.  They were sorting through donated cloths and passing out food.  They were carrying signs with the names of the missing to try to reunite families.  All told, nearly $11 billion dollars [sic] was donated for earthquake relief, and some 100,000 volunteers showed up to help.
     "The earthquake tapped into a lot of different things, actually.  I think it wasn't just the empathy or the compassion, it was also a sense of nationalism and other things that really sort of open the floodgates for the giving."
This, according to Grace Chiang Nicolette, managing director of the Social Venture Group in Shanghai.  Further, she said that:
    The big question for those of us in the circle is, "Was that just a one-off because of the earthquake, or are we going to see more engaged philanthropy in China among the Chinese?"  And our sense is that the general trend is changing.  I don't think we're going to see anywhere near the 2008 levels this year, but I do think that overall people's minds and sort of experience have been opened up to giving in ways they haven't been before.
Deputy Director, Liu Youping, of the China Charity Information Center, Ministry of Civil Affairs (MOCA) said that "Donations to charity in the first quarter of [2009] are just a small fraction of what they were in the first quarter of last year -- and that was before the earthquake.  According to Liu Youping, one of the reasons may have been the financial crisis, but another was skepticism about how the earthquake money was spent.  Nevertheless, Liu Youping said that while donations were down in 2009, volunteerism is up.  China's State Council said that 10 million Chinese volunteered in some capacity (earthquake relief and the Olympics) during 2008.

Charles Li, with the Narada Foundation which funds education-related NGOs, said that the foundation has a mission that is to foster civil society in China and to have a strong third sector to make a complete and mature society.  However,
Society may be more open-minded, but the government is still wary about allowing NGOS too much freedom or independence.  After last year's earthquake, there was an unprecedented openness for volunteers, and NGOs formed on the spot.  But, a few weeks later, those new NGOs were told to stop.  If they wanted to keep working, they were told, they had to find a government department to sponsor and supervise them or they couldn't collect donations.
Ming Hu, of the Center on Philanthropy, Indiana University and Purdue University, and Jiangang Zhu, of the Department of Anthropology, Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou, China, wrote a paper on "Community Reconstruction after the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake: A Reflection on Participatory Development Theories."


Following a three-year case study field research, the authors claimed that "contrary to a single and closed self-recovery, community reconstruction is deeply embedded in and reshaped by a series of much broader social processes: state-dominated post-disaster reconstruction, urban-rural integration development, and social management measures."
We further recognize three major forces constructing those social processes: neo-authoritarian local governments, victims with rising citizenship awareness, and community-based NGOs.  Redefining the power structure in community reconstruction, we argue that, instead of the traditional bottom-up empowerment approach, open communities pluralistic governance, through collaboration of governments, residents, and NGOs, can work more effectively to empower communities and reach sustainable development.
Focusing their research and activities on Baishuihe, a village within Sichuan province, that was destroyed by the earthquake, Hu and Zhu found that residents' self coordination was prone to failure without the presence of Hu and Zhu.

Secondly, principles of transparent decisionmakiing and transparent financial management, which Hu and Zhu had always exemplified and advocated through their community efforts, were not substantially adopted by the Juweihui (or official governing body in every neighborhood or administrative village) and  township government.  Moreover, when national reconstruction policies were declared, local official and Juweihui members significantly reduced their interest and participation in the community activities.

Thirdly, with the victims' gradual return to their everyday lives, and with the start of government-sponsored rebuilding projects, the volunteer stations had become increasingly alienated to residents' major concerned issues because of Hu's and Zhu's status as outsiders.

Fourth, when the earthquake passed the one-year mark, the public's attention and donations gradually declined.  Few came to Baishuihe to volunteer.  NGOs that had launched work stations also decreased commitments and support in the community and returned to their normal operations.

One of the interesting observations by Hu and Zhu was that the emergent relief response to the Sichuan earthquake was likend to a "war" by the state-owned media.  This resulted in the basic characteristics of disaster management policies: centralized decision make by the central government, intensive investment of aid resources, and the mindset of quickly resolving problems.  There was a rumor spread through Baishuihe that the earthquake reconstruction was to be a two-or-three-year thing while the central government payed greater attention and concern.  But since China is so big and the government has so many things on  it agenda, "no one will care about you later if you miss this opportunity (of being sponsored by government)."  Since the victims had no money to independently rebuild their houses and community, many victims finally relented to the great ideological and political pressure to let the government handle things and accepted the government's conditions.

Three major actors were involved in the multiple processes in the Baishuihe reconstruction: the township government, the residents, and the NGOs.  However,
     In all three interwoven social processes, namely the post-earthquake reconstruction, urban-rural integrations, and social stability, the government played a dominant role.  On the one hand, the government actively assumed the responsibilities in resettling the victims, advancing economic growth, and preserving social security; on the other, it ruthlessly pursued the absolute control of public resources by keeping civil society organizations under control.  Two important instruments were employed to undertake the neo-authoritarian policy: planning and marketization.
The state acted as the primary rescuer to deliver relief and assistance when a large number of people lost their most important assets, their homes, in the earthquake.  As a result, victimes experienced complicated feelings, a mix of the collective state view and the market value.  Almost all residential housing and ancillary properties in the quake-stricken area were not insured for earthquake.  So, the majority of victims thanked the state while receiving relief materials.  Some thought the state had the responsibility to help them rebuild their homes, based on the logic that this was a socialist country.

Shortly after the Sichuan earthquake in 2008, NGO researches expected the post-disaster reconstruction to facilitate the growth of civil society in China.  However, after three years, and the three-year study by Ming Hu and Jiangang Zhu, it appears that the NGO sector increased moderately in number, but that the institutional dilemma NGOs had long faced remained, namely registration hindrance, political pressure, public fundraising ban, and human resources bottleneck, and had not significantly improved.

The government's, and specifically, the military's role in the Sichuan earthquake relief effort which could not have been assumed by civil society involved movement of people and traffic and supply chain management.  The Humanitarian Exchange Magazine, Issue 32, June 2009 reported that government official reported that within 14 minutes of the earthquake, the central government dispatched the People's Liberation Army (PLA) to the affected areas, and with days, 113,000 soldiers and armed police had been mobilized.  The overall success of the government's response was made possible by its authoritarian position, its experience of managing large population movements and natural disasters, and the rapid deployment of the military.

What we see in China's experience with the Great Sichuan Earthquake has implications for civil society in China.

One is simply the definitional problem with civil society, and especially with respect to the application of certain Western ideas of civil society to the China situation.  This is particularly pertinent to the state-civil society relationship.  An issue that has been present in all of my discussions with both government officials and academics in a number of universities in China is the sense that the registration laws and requirements make it impossible for many NGOs to be properly registered and operating legally and openly.  The MOCA needs to address this issue.

Second, public expectations regarding the state under a socialistic form of governance.  People just believed that the state should supply all their needs and desires.

Third, there is the question of transparency and accountability of NGOs, and the sense that if any monies raised are used for overhead and administrative expenses, that somehow the civil society organization is corrupt.

Fourth, there was little activity by INGOs during the relief and reconstruction efforts required for recovery from the Sichuan earthquake.  While we hear of the Three-Self Patriotic Church movement within religious circles, the principles of self-governance, self-supporting, and self-propagating, seem to be what limits much of the civil society sector to a more local framework in which INGOs and external support is minimized.  Thus, in the case of the Sichuan earthquake, information received from a few active organizations, such as Medecins Sans Frontieres, UNICEF, AmeriCares Foundation, and Oxfam-Hong Kong, capture the relatively small-scale activities of these agencies.

Fifth, what seemed to be lacking in Sichuan, was the trained and professional human resources to address all the relief and reconstruction needs of the area following the disaster.  Although there were over 150,000 volunteers, many were not adequately utilized within their skill levels, many were turned away, and many were idle without clear direction.

Sixth, one area overlooked in much of the literature, was the role of the unregistered churches in providing volunteers.  During my public lecture in Shantou University, I was asked the question from a member of the audience whether there was something in the American Judeo-Christian history and ethos that promoted charity and giving to charity that might have been lacking in Chinese history, and particularly recent history.

What I have discovered from interviews and from my reading of reports of volunteers in the Sichuan earthquake relief, rescue, and reconstruction efforts, there were many unregistered church groups, as well as groups from the registered churches that were active as volunteers in Sichuan.  I have already mentioned Amity Foundation which operated with the approval of the Chinese government.  Likewise, Jinde, China's largest state-approved Catholic Charity, was leading an aid effort, especially with volunteers going to remote villages to meet earthquake victims and assess their needs.

The "Love China Movement" was started by house churches after the Sichuan earthquake disaster.  Since 2008, this project has awakened Chinese churches to reach out to their communities and has brought about unity amongst churches.  One pastor and leader of the group said in an interview that "Love China Movement" "has greatly influenced churches . . . [where] the participation of Sichuan earthquake disaster relief and reconstruction project is a great awakening of the Chinese Churches in the area of community services."  The main theme of this project was "Love in Action."

In my blog post on 4 November 2011, I wrote about the work of volunteer organizations in Cambodia and the conflicts over a proposed law to regulate the sector.  http://rvanbroekhoven.blogspot.com/2011/11/power-to-regulate-is-power-to-destroy.html.  The general theories in support of the proposed law were similar to those advanced in support of the proposed legislation in Russia.

There is a somewhat similar dynamic going on in the United States during the past year.  Although most of the focus has been on religious freedom, and more specifically, the recognition of religious freedom as a first principle in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and the power of the national government to regulate in such a way that this freedom of believe and practice is limited by the exercise of government power, the issue really addresses the basic issue in this post, namely the external threat to civil society.

The issue here arises out of Affordable Care Act, and more specifically, the regulations that have been proposed by the Department of Health and Human Services.  As originally issued over a year ago, the statute and regulations required all employers to provide contraceptive services to all women without charge to the women.

In the first announced proposal, churches and their directly related groups, such as denominations and religious orders, were exempt provided that they had religious objections to providing contraceptive services.  However, the definition of church and their directly related groups included only those that "have the inculcation of religious values as [their] purpose" and that primarily served and employed people who share the group's religious beliefs.

Under the revised rule, primarily as an accommodation to the Roman Catholic Church and similarly situated religious institutions, and according to a statement issued my the Department of Health and Human Services, "A house of worship would not be excluded from the exemption because, for example, it provides charitable social services to persons of different religious faiths or employees of different religious faiths."  Moreover, the Obama administration announced a year ago, again as an accommodation to Roman Catholic and other religious charities, that such groups would not have to "contract, arrange, or pay or refer for any contraceptive coverage to which they object on religious grounds."  But, the employees covered such organizations' healthcare plan would still receive the separate coverage through whatever healthcare the employer used.

Thus, under the new rules, all employers with the exception of houses of worship have to pay, or make available through an outside insurer, contractive coverage as part of their insurance plans, including the so-called, "morning-after pill," sterilizations and other treatments to which the Roman Catholic Church and many evangelical and religious groups object.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a statement issued on 7 February 2013, listed three key areas of concern: the narrow understanding of a religious ministry; compelling church ministries to fund and facilitate services, such as contraceptives, including abortion-inducing drugs and sterilization that violate Catholic teaching; and disregard of the conscience rights of for-profit business owners who operate their businesses according to their faith and moral values.

Religiously affiliated charities and schools objected to these regulations, as have some devout religious business owners, such as religious bookstores and publishing companies, such as Tyndale House Publishers, and for-profit companies, such as Hobby Lobby.  More than 40 challenges are working their way through the courts, basically arguing that the mandate violates their religious freedoms under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the rights under the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

While my own perspective is that the mandate violates the First Amendment Freedom of Religion clause to the U.S. Constitution, and violates both the letter and spirit of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, there has been no court in the United States that has specifically ruled on the merits of those claims.  However, there is a split in the circuits with respect to the rulings on the procedural and jurisdictional issues.

My point here, as it was on a different point in my post, The Power to Regulate is the Power to Destroy, and my posts, Alexis de Tocqueville and Civil Society (1 November 2009) and Government, Civil Society, and Public Benefit (22 November 2009), is that through regulation and law, governments can either destroy or significantly and adversely affect the nonprofit public benefit sector.

As I wrote in my post of 22 November 2009:
There was a recent situation in Washington, D.C. that illustrates the problems posed by these questions.  For many years, Catholic Charities, a religious charitable organization, had received both government grants and contracts from the government of Washington, D.C.  At issue was $18-20 million in city funds for 20 to 25 programs run by Catholic Charities.  A medical clinic in the Spanish Catholic Center served 3000 people.  This clini received approximately 60 percent of its budget from the city.  Another program provided tutoring services for people preparing to take general education development (GED) tests received 35 percent of its budget from the city.  Foster care and adoption placement services received 90 percent of its funding from the city.  In addition to these services, Catholic Charities received funds from the city to offer mental health services, to operate nine homeless shelters, and during winter, to run hyperthermia shelters.
The conflict between the city of Washington, D.C. and Catholic Charities, and indeed, between the city and the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington arose when the city government proposed changes in the city laws to provide a same-sex marriage law.  Under this proposed law, religious organizations, including the churches, would not be required to perform or make space available for same-sex marriages.  
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington, writing in the Washington Post on 22 January 2013, noted that the Roman Catholic Church has long been criticized as being too dogmatic; that demands have been made that it change its 2000-year-old history and teachings on marriage, family, sexuality, morality, and other matters relating to truth about human beings.  "But even if others do not agree, the church understands that what it proclaims is revealed truth -- the Word of God."

Cardinal Wuerl then went out to point out that the Archdiocese of Washington is the largest nongovernmental provider of social services in our area.  Seventy-five programs in 48 locations offer assistance to whoever needs it, regardless of religion, race, gender, nationality, or sexual orientation.  He went on to say that "[e]ach year, more than 100,000 people in the Washington area rely on Catholic charitable organizations for housing, food, job training, immigration assistance, legal aid, dental care, mental health, lifespan services for those with disabilities and their families and prenatal cared and assistance for the vulnerable pregnant women and unwed mothers."

The Bread of Life Mission, which has served the homeless community in Pioneer Square, Seattle, Washington for over 70 years, was directed by the city to stop feeding the hungry in downtown parks.  According to David Takami with the Seattle Human Services Department, the city does not allow groups of people to feed the homeless outdoors without city approval.

David Takami said that those wishing to feed the homeless needed to coordinate their activities with the Operation: Sack Lunch Program, which serves up to 300 people a day at the city's outdoor meal site located under the I-5 bridge at 6th Avenue and Columbus Street.  By requiring all food served at the site to be coordinated this way, the city can control the nutritional value of what the homeless people eat and can prevent litter from being left behind at parks after meals, according to Mr. Takami.

While Bread of Life Mission is upset about these restrictions, it hopes to continue serving meals to homeles people who come to its shelter.

So, now what should we make of all of this?  Just this week, on 11 February 2013, the new Secretary General of CIVICUS, Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah, began his "mandate at head of the global alliance" with his reflections on the role of CIVICUS in particular, and global civil society in general with respect to all of the challenges affecting citizens around the world.

There are, it seems to me, two hints at what he is thinking when he speaks of protecting civil society space and promoting citizen participation.   As he said, civil society was "screaming about big problems -- from financial meltdown to climate crisis -- long before governments and business woke up."  His aim is to aim is to "amplify those voices, especially from the global South, which are coming up with novel ways of promoting citizen voice and innovative ways of fighting injustice."  What he does not identify is the nature of the civil space for which he advocated the protection.

Since the terms, civil society organizations, third sector, public benefit organizations, voluntary associations, and charities are often used interchangeably, the problem is more a mater of research discipline, such as sociology, political science, law, political philosophy, and economics.  As the London School of Economics, Centre for Civil Society defined it,
Civil society refers to the  arena of uncoerced collective action around shared interests, purposes, and values.  Its institutional forms are distinct from those of the state, family, and market, though in practice, civil society, family, and markets are often complex, blurred, and negotiated.
Historically, CSOs were thought of as mediating organizations, voluntary in nature, between the individual and government.

 As I wrote in http://rvanbroekhoven.blogspot.com/2011/11/power-to-regulate-is-power-to-destroy.html on 4 November 2011, much of the dispute between civil society and the Cambodian government over the proposed new law on NGOs related to questions of by human rights and advocacy organizations, primarily INGOs.  Indeed, as I wrote:
While these INGO signatories stated that civil society actors, both local and foreign, play a vital role in the growth in commerce and industry "through monitoring, community development, poverty alleviation, humanitarianism, research, and advocacy," the draft law would threaten "to severely restrict civil society's freedom of association and expression, thereby preventing civil society organizations and NGOs from fulfilling these roles."  "Efforts to ensure transparency and accountability in project implementation will also likely be negatively affected as civil society groups monitor government projects face tighter, and potentially hostile government scrutiny."
But, hostile government actions, including legislation, orders, and enforcement practices, are frequently the result of disputes with what the government perceives to be hostile advocacy groups.  And clearly, as Secretary General Sriskandarajah said,
Vested interests are hard to fight.  And in the established democracies, policymakers seem to be coming up with ever-cleaver ways of keeping civil society in check.  Politicians' paranoia is also hard to fight the world over!
He goes on to argue that new technologies mean that people can not only mobilize more effectively, but also monitor and hold governments accountable. According to Sriskandarfajah, global solidarity holds the key and that we need to share our experiences and lessons learned across civil society and use our collective voices in support of common causes.

While I am not persuaded that this is an adequate and complete definition of civil society, it is clearly a part of the civil society agenda that keeps both democratic societies and nondemocratic societies on edge in terms of their respect for the role of civil society.  It also reflects the definitional differences between some of the thinking in the West and emerging civil society movement in the East.

Bans may exist in some countries which are focused on human rights and political advocacy organizations, and registration and tax laws may make it difficult for some of these groups to operate in a country, especially if they are INGOs.  But, this is only part of the story.

Rather than think of civil society in only political terms, for the purpose of this discussion, I would simply adopt a definition which recognizes the political, sociological, economic, legal construct of the concept.

My guess is that rather than simply ban all civil society organizations, most countries, democratic or otherwise, may seek to restrict the authority and operations of CSOs, including purely charitable organizations, and especially INGOs, on the theory that such organizations and people involved in them are a threat to the power of the state.  In socialist countries with histories of government control of all aspects of life, populations are left with the idea that the government should provide for all of its citizens and suspicious of volunteer organizations.  This was part of the story illustrated above with respect to the volunteer efforts in Russia and the relief and reconstruction work in China following the Great Sichuan Earthquake.

Another closely related factor in possible government hostility to civil society and in suspicions of a country's citizen, is the idea that backers of laws and proposed laws regulating volunteer activity want to ensure that volunteer activity conform to the government's policies, priorities, and that it not conflict with state policies.  This is illustrated by the cases, Volunteers on Wheels and Liza Alert in Russia, and some of the many groups providing relief and reconstruction volunteer service in Sichuan Province, China.

Closely related to these factors is the case in which the government seeks to impose its value set on society generally, and thereby indirectly restrict the work of charitable organizations with value sets that are different than those of the government. Thus, in the U.S., when the government promotes certain women's rights, such as contraceptive service at no expense to the employee, or same sex rights, including same sex marriage, religious organizations are unable to provide the charitable services that they have provided for decades and perhaps centuries consistent with their belief systems, teaching and their rights to religious freedom.

Outright bans, selective and complex registration requirements, exercise of power through authoritative actions, tax policy, and imposition of certain value sets are some of the ways the state can restrict the activities and effectiveness of charitable organizations.  Perhaps, most states, if not all states, feel threatened by forces that they cannot control and are wary about allowing NGOs, like market organizations, too much freedom or independence.

This leads to some questions about law and the nature of law, which were addressed by Lord Patrick Devlin, a British lawyer, judge, and Lord Justice of the Court of Appeal, in his book, The Enforcement of Morals.  He raised three basic questions that seem to me to have pertinence to the relationship between the state and civil society.  I raise a final question.  The questions are these:
1.  The first is: Does society have the right to pass judgments at all on matters of morality?  Ought there, in other words, be a public morality, or are morals always a question for private judgment?
2.  The second is:  If society has the right to pass such judgment, has it the right to use the weapon of law to enforce it?
3.  Third:  If society has the right to use the weapon of law to enforce its judgment on morals, ought it to use that weapon in all cases or only in some?  And, if only in some, on what principle should it be enforced by law and what judgments should not?
4.  These three questions raise basic questions about the subject matter, namely moral knowledge is knowledge about what?  Once that is decided, we are faced with the epistemological question: How is moral knowledge achieved?  And then we must face the motivational question: What reason, if any, should one take to have an interest in, or care about moral knowledge.  
These might give some conceptual frame work to questions regarding the existence and role of civil society, and then how civil society organizations should relate to the state and society generally, and how the state might regulate the sector.





1 comment:

  1. The consequences of today are determined by the actions of the past scarlet blade gold. To change your future, alter your decisions today scarlet blade gold, Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterwards scarlet blade gold, but it takes character to keep you there.

    ReplyDelete